Canids make their presence known
There are an abundance of wildlife species which make Sanibel their home from turtles, birds, alligators – and now coyotes.
Coyotes were first officially documented living on the island in February of 2011, when one was photographed in the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on the banks of a mudflat.
Ever since, signs of coyote life continued, as the City of Sanibel notified the public of the sighting and asked citizens to report any other signs of the animal.
The spread of coyotes in Florida is well documented. In 1983, coyotes populated 18 counties in the state, but in 1990 they occupied 48 counties, while recently, they have been sighted in all 67 counties.
“The Florida Fish and Wildlife determined coyotes are native to Florida, with coyotes appearing in the Florida fossil record,” said City of Sanibel Natural Resource Acting Director Holly Milbrandt. “So they are not considered an invasive species. We have a partnership with Ding Darling Refuge and the SCCF to keep monitoring the coyotes on the island.”
In coordination with the SCCF and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, monitoring coyotes was done by placing game cams on trails and conservation lands, which can take night photos using static infrared technology.
The Sanibel Biologists Working Group was formed, which included the City, SCCF, USFWS and CROW. They will meet July 23 and Nov. 14, to track the progress of the coyote study on Sanibel.
Milbrandt didn’t know how the coyotes made it to the island, but she suggested they could have made it down the Causeway, or during low tide time, able to cross over in the shallow areas.
Milbrandt said in a power-point presentation to the Sanibel City Council Tuesday, May 5, they have tracked and documented all the coyote sightings since 2011. A map shown displayed that coyotes have been sighted from Point Ybel all the way to Blind Pass.
In 2015, there have been 23 coyote sightings reported to the City of Sanibel.
“The sightings doubled in 2013 and 2014 from 2011 and they were reported in all 12 months of the year,” Milbrandt said. “They have been reported all across the island, too. But we don’t know how many coyotes are on the island and if the same ones are being sighted. We think maybe there are five to 10 coyotes on Sanibel.”
Since 2011, there have been three deceased coyotes found on Sanibel, two hit by a car and one unknown cause of death.
Milbrandt said coyotes usually travel singly or in pairs and occasionally in family groups. They also can be identified with their vocalizations such as barking, shrill yips and howls.
“We’ve never seen a photo of more than two together,” Milbrandt said. “Their territorial area usually ranges to 15 square miles and Sanibel is 17 square miles. They are territorial.”
In other areas of Florida, efforts to eradicate coyotes went without fruition. They are versatile and can increase their reproduction rate or move from other surrounding territories once a coyote is removed.
The Sanibel Biologists Working Group believes a better understanding of coyote population size, habitat use, reproductive success, home range size and food habits is needed to determine appropriate management measures.
There are virtually no cases of coyote attacks on people in the United States. According to the Humane Society of the United States, more people are killed by errant golf balls and flying champagne corks each year, than are bitten by coyotes.
There have been only two recorded incidences in the U.S. and Canada of coyote attacks on people, one happening in the 1980s and one in Nova Scotia in 2009.
If there is interaction between coyotes and people, it usually involves pets. Several coyote attacks on dogs and cats have been reported over the past few years in Florida, but in those incidences, humans were not the target.
“There is different public reaction to coyote presence on Sanibel, such as interest, concern or fear,” Milbrandt added.
The coyotes’ largest impact, though, has come on Sanibel’s protected and other native species. The known impacts include on sea turtle nesting and hatchlings and the Least terns.
Milbrandt included unknown impacts on such species as box turtles, gopher tortoises, bobcats, the Sanibel rice rat and other birds.
“The SCCF recorded 411 sea turtle nests on Sanibel, in 2011 there was only nine-percent of the nests affected by coyote depredation,” Milbrandt said. “In 2012, that rose and in 2013-14 that rose dramatically. They would like to see under 10-percent of coyote depredation, but it is now up to 32-percent.”
The SCCF uses coyote footprints in the sand to determine the depredation count, as well as video. There have been plans implemented to lower that number, such as putting screens over the nests to protect the hatchlings.
“The biggest threat thus far to sea turtles, have been the coyotes,” Milbrandt said.
To determine a course of action, the Sanibel Biologist Working Group by increasing coyote education and awareness, by providing a FAQ document on www.mysanibel.com.
There is an effort to deploy more wildlife cameras and the SCCF will significantly increase the number of nests protected with screening.
Milbrandt passed along some tips for citizens to follow to help, they include: do not feed coyotes or leave pet food outdoors; keep your pet on a leash at all times; if you encounter a coyote, make noise and wave your arms, which reinforces the coyote’s natural fear of people.
Report all coyote sightings by calling the Sanibel Police Department at 239-472-3111.